Cruz and Rubio, from bromance to Cuban cage match

When "Hardball" host Chris Matthews warned, before the Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpIG investigating Comey memos over classified information: report Overnight Defense: Congress poised for busy week on nominations, defense bill | Trump to deliver Naval Academy commencement speech | Trump administration appeals decision to block suspected combatant's transfer Top Pruitt aid requested backdate to resignation letter: report MORE-less Fox News debate last month, that no one would want to see "a debate between two Cuban guys," he couldn't have foreseen the Spanish-language smackdown in South Carolina, where Republican Sens. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzCruz's Dem challenger slams Time piece praising Trump Race for Republican Speaker rare chance to unify party for election 32 male senators back Senate women's calls to change harassment rules MORE (Texas) and Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioStudents gather outside White House after walkout to protest gun violence Overnight Energy: Senate confirms Bridenstine as NASA chief | Watchdog probes Pruitt’s use of security detail | Emails shine light on EPA science policy changes Senate confirms Trump’s pick to lead NASA MORE (Fla.) went mano a mano.

On the debate stage, they were on either side of Trump, like a Cuban sandwich. Cruz drew first blood, arguing that Rubio supported amnesty before he opposed it, especially while appearing on Univision. In response, Rubio snidely asked how Cruz could have known, since he doesn't speak español. The senator from Texas gamely proved him wrong, even if he sounded like a gringo.

What began as a bicultural bromance in the early stages of the campaign, with the two referring to each other as friends, has now become a Cuban cage match.

Rubio and Cruz share the historic distinction of being the first Cuban-American contenders for the White House. Both are young men in a hurry, ambitious attorneys in their 40s — slick, articulate and camera-ready. Both have telegenic marriages with families right out of "Leave it to Beaver."

But they are as different as ham and lechon (roast pork), two essential ingredients in a Cuban sandwich (along with cheese, pickles and mustard, grilled between two pieces of Cuban bread — like a French baguette but airier, for any foodies out there.)

The Florida senator's grandfather was a guajiro, a cigar-chomping farmer who left the sugarcane fields of Jicotea to work for the railroad. Rubio's working-class parents left Cuba for the U.S. in 1956, long before the revolution. Rubio had often claimed they were political exiles, though after being outed by The Washington Post, he admitted his mistake.

In contrast, Cruz's father hails from the city of Matanzas, known as the "Athens of Cuba." Like many middle-class students, Rafael Cruz supported Fidel Castro's revolution, but ran afoul of Fulgencio Batista's goons. While the extent of his political involvement has been questioned by The New York Times, he fled first to the U.S. and lived there, and later, Canada, where Ted was born — as Trump often reminds us.

Both Ted Cruz and Rubio are lily-white, of predominantly Spanish descent. But Cuba is a complex melting pot and arroz con frijoles negros (rice and black beans) is not only our national dish, but a good description of our DNA.

The senators are also very different types of Cuban-Americans. Rubio grew up in Miami, where Spanish is heard more than English, while Cruz lived in Houston, far from the barrio. This is at the heart of Rubio's nasty little dig on Saturday night, taunting his rival for not being Latino enough. Cruz debated his way into Princeton University and Harvard Law School, same as any blue-blood preppie, while Rubio graduated from the school of hard knocks, leaving Tarkio College in Missouri and getting busted for a misdemeanor in a city park before beginning his meteoric rise in local politics (and attending the University of Florida and then the University of Miami School of Law).

Yet for all these differences, their positions are quite similar, at least on immigration, and not that different from Trump's.

Both are adamant on the need to "secure the border," and would build a wall as big and beautiful as Trump's (costing $8 billion.) Both have walked back from Trump's version of "Operation Wetback" (a 1950s Immigration and Naturalization Service plan) — his cruel and ludicrous idea to deport 12 million people — though both oppose any path to citizenship for the undocumented. They would both rescind President Obama's executive orders granting legal status to Dreamers, whose families brought them to the U.S. as children.

Cruz agrees with Trump on ending birthright citizenship, while Rubio has not gone so far, perhaps because it would put his own citizenship in jeopardy.

Both senators would repeal ObamaCare, both oppose gay marriage and both want to ban abortions, even in the case of rape or incest. Both would presumably appoint Supreme Court justices intent on overturning Roe v. Wade.

Rubio wants to fill up Guantánamo military prison with more prisoners, and waterboard them into telling us "everything we need to know." Cruz wants to carpet-bomb the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) into submission, and "make the sand glow." Both have threatened to rip up Obama's Iran deal.

Rubio's tax plan would add $6.8 trillion to the deficit, while Cruz would end corporate income tax and do away with the IRS altogether. Both would dramatically increase military spending.

And both are strongly against Obama's dramatic opening to Cuba a year ago, which resulted in the normalization of relations between the two countries.

Cuban-Americans comprise less than 5 percent of the Latino community, and these nuances matter little to most Latino voters, two-thirds of whom are of Mexican descent. But what jars is the harsh, anti-immigrant rhetoric of both candidates, and the underlying hypocrisy of their positions.

Would President Cruz have given his father, a pro-Castro "freedom fighter" during the Cold War, political asylum? And under President Rubio, would his parents have received legal status when they arrived in the U.S., much less citizenship? As Ricky often told Lucy on "I Love Lucy," they've both got some "'splaining to do," particularly if they want the Latino vote.

As a Cuban-American of a (slightly) older generation, I'm proud of them both, whether or not I'd vote for them. Either may well be elected president, if not this year then four, eight or 12 years from now. Whatever the outcome, 2016 is a trial run for Rubio and Cruz. Get used to that, and get over it.

But both are pesado, a Cuban expression that's impossible to translate, but often heard in Havana as well as Miami. It means "heavy," but refers to someone who's self-absorbed, arrogant or ill-tempered, all cardinal sins to a Cuban. Among us, you can get away with much if you don't take yourself too seriously.

Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz both need to lighten up. Even if you want either to be president, you probably wouldn't want them to come over for a cafecito.

We'll see if Latino voters agree.

Estrada was born in Cuba and graduated from Harvard University before practicing law and founding HISPANIC Magazine. Based in Austin, he is currently the editor of LATINO Magazine and the author of the novel "Welcome to Havana, Señor Hemingway" and the nonfiction "Havana: Autobiography of a City."